Writing for FirstPost, Saj discusses the ups and downs of Mohammad Amir's career and how his big match temperament will be crucial in Pakistan's marquee clash against India.
By Saj Sadiq (18th September, 2018)
Seldom has the world of cricket been so excited about an emerging talent than it was when an 18-year-old Mohammad Amir destroyed a top-class Australian batting order in the second Test at Leeds in 2010. It appeared that a career that could eclipse the achievements of Pakistan’s left-arm legend Wasim Akram, was at its beginnings. The world was at Mohammad Amir’s feet.
Yet, a few weeks later, Mohammad Amir was to find himself demoted from the object of praise to the stature of arch-villain. Along with Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, Amir was banished from the game he loved for a period of five years.
Unable to enter a cricket ground, let alone bowl a single ball, Amir served his ban where he would have faced the personal demons of self-doubt, as well as ridicule from all quarters.
Consider it his belief in his destiny or dogged determination to restore his dignity, Amir did not give up on his dream to be back in Pakistani colours and put in some excellent domestic performances, shortly after the expiry of his ban in 2015.
The will to succeed and to respond to his critics would have been a great driving force for Amir as he started to feature regularly in Pakistan sides in all formats. But, it appeared that the missed five years of what many would consider as the formative years for any young fast-bowler did take their toll on Amir.
He was considered unlucky on many occasions as catches were dropped off his bowling as he started to find his feet again at the international level. Many critics pointed at the lack of spark that the younger version of Amir had at the start of his career, while some said the skills that made him unplayable to a batsman like Ricky Ponting in 2010 were simply not there anymore.
The detractors have spared no chance to criticise his continued selection for international duties. However, to the immense credit of the Pakistan team management and especially head coach Mickey Arthur, there seems to be no lack of confidence in the fast bowler's abilities and support for him has remained steadfast through thick and thin.
It is, perhaps, due to this faith in the magic that Amir could conjure that Pakistan persisted with the pacer as they took him to the T20 Asia Cup in 2016 in Bangladesh where he delivered a mouth-watering performance against arch-rivals India, which almost won the game for his side. In the space of almost three overs, Amir removed Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina, leaving India on a precarious 8/3 before the genius of Virat Kohli intervened to bring sanity back into the proceedings.
Perhaps, it was also the same confidence in what Amir could do when inspired by the occasion that the Pakistan team management continued to persist with him as the leader of the pack in the Champions Trophy in 2017. The naysayers were out in numbers as he continued to put in average performances during the earlier stages of the tournament, but what transpired in the final match of the tournament at The Oval is now the stuff of legends.
Whilst the Pakistan batsmen had set-up a target that most teams would baulk upon, the quality of Indian batting was expected to take up the challenge with relish. The big-match player in Amir woke up to the occasion and delivered a masterful performance in the final taking 3 for 16 and breaking the back of the Indian batting.
The hapless recipients of Amir’s penchant for performing so well on big occasions were none other than Rohit Sharma who could not get off the mark, Shikhar Dhawan, and perhaps most importantly, the Indian captain Virat Kohli. In the space of a few sublime deliveries from Amir, even those who were against his selection had forgiven him. It was a sight to behold and Amir looked back at his brilliant best.
The joy and wicket-taking celebrations of Amir at The Oval were shared by millions of Pakistan fans around the world. It was as if fate had returned the hero that the nation revered in 2010 and then learned to hate. The redemption of Mohammad Amir was complete.
After more ups and downs for Amir since the Champions Trophy final, we move on to what many are terming the grudge match between the two Asian giants. The 19 September encounter between India and Pakistan promises to live up to the hype of many such matches from before. It does not matter what the occasion is or the location, the do-or-die aspect of all such games is something only true fans of both nation’s cricket teams can describe.
For Mohammad Amir, this will be another occasion to prove his temperament as a big-match player. The DSC stadium is expected to be a full house and when the time comes for Amir to run in to bowl to the India captain, we can expect the roar of the crowd to be a deafening one. There will be a little needle too, with Mohammad Amir no doubt fired-up and still remembering Rohit Sharma’s words when he asked the world to not go ‘gaga’ over the fast-bowler’s return to international cricket. In return, now appointed as captain in the absence of Virat Kohli, we can expect a determined Rohit Sharma ready to avenge the humiliation of a duck at the hands of Amir in their last encounter in England.
The stakes, as ever, are high in the upcoming battle between the neighbours. We can expect no side to give an inch or flinch in the face of any pressure. The DSC promises to be a jam-packed cauldron with Mohammad Amir keen to repeat his Champions Trophy performance to show all that he remains a force to contend with. Regardless of the outcome of this contest, a fired-up Mohammad Amir will be a sight to behold and the world of cricket will always be richer for that.